Bklyn Incubator Grant: Clinton Hill Library Garden

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Our grant-funded garden project is well underway at the Clinton Hill branch library! The main goals for the program are to support a culture of learning and a foster a connection between the library and local teens. It’s still pretty cold outside here in Brooklyn, so the actual outdoor activities won’t kick into gear until mid-April, but we’ve already started to offer hands-on activities specifically focused on teens that we hope will boost their understanding, familiarity, and interest in science and nature. By the end of the project, we hope to foster confidence and civic participation in young adults, and deepen the Library’s involvement with the teens in Clinton Hill. So far, the community reaction has been positive, and the young adults themselves have been game to try all of the activities I’ve thrown at them.

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Some background on the project:

Our teens generally hail from Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant, neighborhoods which have limited open space. (According to city data, Clinton Hill has 211 kids per open public acre, while Bedford-Stuyvesant has 811—significantly higher than Brooklyn’s 45 children per acre average.) Additionally, the Clinton Hill branch is a small building with a bustling youth presence, and the neighborhood is home to some 15 or so schools. Many students clearly make our library their first stop after school; even on Saturdays, many of the teens who live in the neighborhood often show up for a few hours, sometimes arriving when we open and staying until we close. Most of them are actively interested in doing any kind of program or activity I can offer, and they constantly ask me for more. We do the best we can, but we also have plenty of adults, seniors, small children & their caregivers, and older school-aged children who all require their own programs and meeting room use. So while we don’t have much of an engagement problem, we do have a serious floorspace problem. Making better use of the outdoor space along the front of the building would alleviate some of the tensions between all the children, adults, and teens who are trying to share the library.

Our project enhances much-needed outdoor space for our youth, and extends the usefulness of our existing space. The highly-visible nature of the outdoor gardening program will also serve to help teens connect their actions with effects on the community as a whole—they can literally see their efforts transforming the exterior of the library, and by extension, their neighborhood. We hope that the attendees will have a positive experience during the program that will bring them back to the library in other contexts, and we hope to build on this experience to get young adults involved in other aspects of learning at the library.

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I’m extremely grateful to the BKLYN Incubator team (and all the people in the community who voted for my proposal) for selecting my project as one of the grant winners. I’m excited not only to provide meaningful opportunities for learning , but also to give our local teens a sense of ownership and responsibility. By letting them design the garden layout and select which plants to grow, we’re not only helping them develop planning and decision-making skills, but we’re reinforcing that this is their library, too, and they have the ability to shape things within their community.

Best of all, a garden isn’t a single use commodity. My focus for this project is on teens, but there’s no reason that younger children in nearby day camps can’t get involved throughout the summer; adults may find that the garden makes a nice backdrop for a poetry reading or other social activities. Our garden would also be endlessly repeatable. If the same teens are still hanging around next spring, we can build off our pre-existing knowledge and experiments to try different things in the garden; if not, we can easily repeat the most successful activities next year with an entirely new crop of teens.

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